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Telluride 2012: 'Argo,' 'The Gatekeepers' and 'Frances Ha' Among Todd McCarthy's Standouts

Argo

THR's chief film critic looks back at this year's crop of films at this year's balanced fest.

Along with the overlapping Venice Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival annually provides the first sample of what’s in store for the big autumn film season. With its four-day duration over Labor Day weekend and small-town setting, Telluride is far more selective than most festivals, which means that almost everything you see, from new films to old, American and foreign, will be worth seeing.

This year was no exception, as a couple of new heavy hitters mixed with some very fine American independents and strong foreign entries to create a festival of exceptional balance.

TELLURIDE REVIEW: Argo

On the high-profile side, Ben Affleck’s Argo delivers all the goods: A first-rate political thriller, it’s intelligent, commercial, surprisingly funny, visually rich and, unfortunately, timely.

An even more hot-button political film that fired up everyone who saw it is Dror Moreh’s extraordinary documentary The Gatekeepers, in which six former heads of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency speak with extraordinary bluntness about the country’s past and present. Sony Pictures Classics isn’t planning to release the film until next year, but this is a work of exceptional urgency that inspired more excited and passionate talk than anything else at Telluride.

On the indie front, Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, co-written by and starring Greta Gerwig, was an undisputed success, its seriocomic buoyancy and black-and white images of New York (and, briefly, Paris and Sacramento) providing a wonderful tonic.

STORY: Telluride 2012: Fun But Light 'Hyde Park on Hudson' Faces Uphill Climb With Academy

There was unconditional praise for Elle Fanning’s remarkable performance in Sally Potter’s very fine Ginger & Rosa as a teenager in 1962 London beset with concern over the A-bomb threat and disarray with her parents and best friend. Also widely and deeply admired was Sarah Polley’s distinctive personal documentary Stories We Tell.

Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson is a genial, middleweight divertissement highlighted by Bill Murray’s enjoyable turn as FDR. Among the other English-language features, there was appreciation for Ramin Bahrani’s At Any Price with Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron as well as for Ariel Vromen’s violent hitman drama The Iceman, starring Michael Shannon. Michael Winterbottom’s Everyday, a drama about a Norfolk family shot in installments over a five-year period, has points of interest but is dramatically flat.

STORY: Telluride 2012: Greta Gerwig Sheds Tears of Joy at World Premiere of Noah Baumbach's 'Frances Ha' 

Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack is a potent and grim personal drama about Palestinian terrorism, and Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children proved a mixed bag. Other new foreign films turning up in Telluride were Tullio Giordana’s Piazza Fontana, female Saudi director Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wadjda and Xavier Giannoli’s Superstar.